Reviews and notes
2007 Toronto (Best Canadian Feature Film)
2008 Berlin, Tribeca, Wellington
Guy Maddin's portrait of his native city is intensely idiosyncratic and hilariously unreliable, constructed around his apparently doomed imperative to escape the place, and with it his mother. It was commissioned by the Documentary Channel, but that's where any resemblance to documentary as we know it ends. His Winnipeg is a wintry noir
metropolis, refracted through his patented array of antique optical techniques and glimpsed from the window of a train that's hurtling out of town, but caught in a constant loop. Dredging the fetid depths of his subconscious, he takes us back to the sensual mayhem of his mother's hairdressing salon, the macho world of ice hockey and the locker rooms of the city's subterranean pools. Rococo re-enactments cast 40s femme fatale
Anne Savage as the frightful mother. The scourge of developers, Maddin rails against the destruction of its great buildings, loathing the city fathers with murderous relish.
- Bill Gosden, Wellington Film Festival 2008.
The Canadian indie film-maker Guy Maddin has specialised in a faux early- or silent-movie style, with wobbly, out-of-focus inter-titles, surreally heightened scratchiness and mostly shot in a grainy monochrome, but with the occasional, disorienting discolourisation, as if viewed for a moment through blue or brown glass - the kind you might see in genuine old reels rescued from oblivion. It has increasingly seemed like a supercilious and even necrophiliac gimmick, and in writing recently about Esteban Sapir's movie La Antena
- conceived on comparable lines - I wondered if Sapir and Maddin haven't in fact been obtusely antiquarian in tricking out their movies with the wrinkles and creases of age. This type of movie, on first appearance, was in fact, ultra-modern and state-of-the-art, and the original film-makers were pushing hard at the limits of the possible.
However, Maddin has now given us a movie for which his eccentric style is persuasive and appropriate: it's a drowsy paean to his hometown of Winnipeg. The drowsiness is deliberate, a willed drowsiness, a self-administered anaesthetic to dull the pain of a vanished childhood and the blue remembered hills of a hometown from which the adult is debarred.
It is a city, he says, whose people have been let down by their politicians and whose cultural inner-life has much in common with the sleepwalker. The wooziness, the not-all-there-ness, of Maddin's cine-idiom is here doing real work in conveying a submerged cathedral of memory. The film is actually far funnier than anything he's given us before, and there is, moreover, something on offer not readily detectable in his work up to now: that is, sincerity, a sense that what he's talking about matters, personally, to him. Maddin's getting real - as well as surreal.
The city's extreme snowy cold is evoked by Maddin, with a feeling that any insights or memories of the place have to be excavated, archaeologically, from dense layers of snow, as well as numb indifference. He regales us with an embellished and souped-up history of Winnipeg and unreliably reconstructs his own claustrophobic family history, scoring a brilliant coup in bringing the 1940s Hollywood fatale
star Ann Savage out of retirement to play his hilarious and formidable mother. (Maddin playfully adds a further level of fictionalisation in claiming that Savage is in fact his real mother, uneasily prevailed upon to play herself.)
He has a hilarious sequence in which the mother and all the kids have to gather round in the hallway and straighten the hall "runner", the long carpet, a daily, impossible job his mother superintended with annoying precision. It is funny because it is, all too clearly, real. The rest of the movie is composed of memories that have been inventively transformed and this is entertaining, although occasionally frustrating in that they hint at a more powerful, simpler story that Maddin is unwilling or unable to tell. There can be no doubt about it, though: Maddin is a real film-maker with a confident, fluent movie language that is evolving in fascinating directions.
- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Friday 4 July 2008.
Weblink: A Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
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